You Say Hello…

In my life “Good-byes” fall into four main categories — those I can’t avoid, those I instigate, those that are instigated by others, and those that happen slowly over time, kind of an “evolving door” rather than an exit.

The first “good-bye” I couldn’t avoid was the death of my grandmother Beall which happened when I was 10. I didn’t understand any of what was going on at the time, honestly. There was the adult world of grieving daughters — my mom and her sisters — and the quiet world of confused cousins, my peers. It was just strange. But it was my first experience with death. The second was to be my cat, Henry, who came home one day with a broke back and while I was at school, my parents had him put to sleep. It was right and completely different from my grandma’s death, not so much because it was just a cat, but because there was a clear injury. I’d gone out to the garage to let Henry in and found him like that. He tried to jump up into my arms as usual.

The next was my father’ death which resembled Henry’s death far more than it resembled my grandmother’s. I had the chance to say “Good-bye” to my dad one afternoon and from that I learned that, if you can, control that moment so you can hold within your heart a perfect memory, a perfect image.

After that, over the years, there was what anyone in this temporal existence expects. One death after another. One permanent good-bye followed by another. Grandmother, mom, aunts, dogs, dogs, dogs, friends. You can’t always say good-bye but after a certain time, “Good-bye” is part of every “hello.”

I’ve had to break up with some boyfriends, divorce some husbands, and end a few friendships intentionally. Those are hard good-byes. They can involve packing up some future-ex’ crap and putting it in a wheel-barrow in the front yard. They can involve difficult phone calls, “No, Sweet-cheeks, I really mean it. I’m tired of you calling me and venting about your horrible boyfriend and not doing anything about it. I’m not your sob-sister. I’m your friend. That guy treats you horribly. If you hadn’t told me all these stories about him over the years, it would be different. I feel used because you don’t do anything about it. I don’t want to hear from you anymore.” Ending friendships can involve “ghosting,” leading to numerous “Why don’t you call me back?” messages which you answer in your mind, “because you kicked my dog, you excrescence.”

And, of course, there’s being dumped. In my life that’s probably been no weirder than in anyone else’s.

Then, you know, people move away. People’s interests change. People’s lives evolve. A lot happens in our lives, and the silent “good-byes” often have no bad feelings. Maybe there are going to be thousands of miles between you or that our lives that — once similar and synchronous — are now wildly different.

I have a few friends with whom I’ve been connected for more than fifty years. The friendships have survived because someone has held on — loosely. Our lives have gone in their own ways over the decades, but the connection remained alive. Some of these friends are old boyfriends (now literally, senior citizens) which is actually kind of cool. Whatever the connection was back in the dim recesses of time, something more important than the feelings of being “in love” was born and endured. My best woman friend from the 70s is still my friend today. We never agreed on everything — in fact, we disagree on a lot of things — but we value the other deeply for certain ineffable qualities of being that we never discovered elsewhere.

“Good-bye” is inevitable and while I’m not sure that every good-by opens the door to someone new, it’s useful to believe it does.

Natural Pigments #5

All my paintings kind of look the same because winter in the Rio Grande Riparian Zone looks pretty much the same everywhere. Today I decided to try painting all in one “swoop” and learned from my friend, Rita Cirillo, painting that way is called Alla Prima. Basically, painting wet into wet. I’m not an artist that mixes a lot of colors and with the natural pigments that hasn’t worked really well since the colors are all, essentially, dirt. They mix all-right with each other and with white, but they are also what they are, no matter what.

This little painting is the work of an afternoon, basically two hours.

I think I’m finished for a while. There is nothing new happening in the paintings now, but who knows.


I love Federico Fellini’s films. I think if I’d had the opportunity to know him, I might have liked him, too. I first learned of him — his films — when I was a little kid and a then-scandalous “foreign” (OH MY GOD!) film came out. My parents went to see La Dolce Vita. My brother and I had a babysitter that night. All I remember hearing about it the next day was, “I don’t like subtitles.”

I watched Nights of Cabiria in a college film class. Afterward, my teacher explained what Fellini was doing. I listened without being convinced. It’s an incredibly dark film made before Fellini broke from the post-war vision of most Italian directors.

The next Fellini film I heard about was Satyricon. There was a big article about it in Life Magazine that sparked my curiosity. I was in college, and Satyricon was at the Denver art theater, the Flick. A guy from the Colorado School of Mines was trying to date me. He picked me up at the dorm, took me to the theater, and expected me to pay half. THAT wasn’t my idea of a date at all. We didn’t see the movie and I never saw him again.

Eight years later my best friend, her boyfriend and I went to see City of Women at Denver’s Vogue (vague) Theater. It was hilarious, and it beat out all previous films in my experience for quantities of phallus images (to be fair also images of birth canals). As we were leaving the theater, we looked in the window of the nearby Mexican restaurant at all the cocktuses and laughed.

Somewhere in there I had decided that God had abdicated responsibility for guiding my fate and had subcontracted to Federico Fellini. I’d told my friend this one night over dinner. She just laughed at me until one of the songs in City of Women was this disco hit by Gino Soccio that she’d heard ONLY at my house. It convinced her. 😀

Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film about failure, the artistic vision vs. investors, monogamy vs. human nature, the constant pulls on the human heart and the artist’s imagination was my best friend for a long time. Whenever I felt discouraged about teaching, writing, love, life, money, identity, I watched 8 1/2.

In 2004, in the midst of my Felliniesque life, I even gave a paper at a professional conference. The topic was “The Image of the Hero.” My mind went right to Fellini’s corpus. I named the hero of Fellini’s films “Old Half Head,” the nickname given to a statue of Julius Caesar standing in the town square of the movie version of Fellini’s home town, Rimini, in the film Roma. Half of Caesar’s head has broken off. I saw this image over and over and over in Fellini’s films, and over time, realized that it represents what an artist does to himself when he/she gives up, gives in, loses faith. The “Fellini hero”, in many films, “half-heads” “himself.”

The protagonist of La Dolce Vita half-heads himself in the very last scene of the movie. As construction proceeds in a subway in Roma, a Roman villa is discovered and there is a floor mosaic of Fellini with part of his head broken away. In 8 1/2 the hero, Guido, stops short of half-heading himself with a pistol. The half-head is what happens when an artist loses faith. There is also “half-heading” in I Vitelloni, Intervista, and the unfinished Voyage of G. Mastorna.

I haven’t yet lost faith in the journey, even though it often seems dark and desperate. The important thing of man today is to hang on, not to let his head droop but to keep looking up through the tunnel, perhaps even inventing a way of salvation through fantasy or will-power, and especially through faith. For this reason, I think the work of artists is really important today. Fellini on Fellini

P.S. I just learned that yesterday Fellini would have been 100 years old. ❤

Thoughts on NOT Having to Go to School Tomorrow…

Martin Luther King day still makes me a little stressed. I woke up this morning thinking of all the things I needed to get done (basically NOTHING) then realized I’d had another teaching dream. You see, spring semester begins tomorrow. You can’t walk away from 35+ years of habit.

Spring semester was always my least favorite. The best part of it was the advent of daylight savings time which meant I no longer drove home in the dark. Spring semester was endless where fall semester was always a neatly packaged 12 week travail that slowed down gracefully after Thanksgiving. One Spring semester was 16 weeks long broken in the middle by Spring Break from which no one recovered. One year I had such denial about spring semester that I forgot to go to my first class on Tuesday. My schedule had been flipped and flopped a couple of times by THE POWERS and I forgot I had a 1 pm class, not a 2 pm class as per usual. Anything to throw those part-time teachers off balance… I showed up late, but I showed up.

In the wee hours of this morning I dreamed about setting up my Blackboard online materials without knowing my new login. This is not cool as it’s now been 6 spring semesters since the last one. I doubt I will ever recover 100% from teaching. The flame on the torch I carried so long wavered, sputtered and went out, but the memories…

I’ve learned a lot about myself as a teacher since I retired and have had the chance to look back on those years from a little distance with more knowledge of myself. When we have to earn a living, and we only have ONE marketable skill (or believe we do), we might tell ourselves we’re passionate about what we’re doing, but what we’re passionate about is having a roof over our heads and food in our mouths. Still, I loved the classroom. I enjoyed reading essays. Business Communication, when it arrived in my life and I got a handle on it, gave me the chance to learn so many skills I wouldn’t have. I learned a lot about my personality from those relentless extraverts.

The biggest thing I taught my students I was not doing myself, and that was knowing my audience. At the end of my career — for the final four or five years — I just knew I didn’t like it any more, but I didn’t know why. I did not know how tuition had gone up, the pressures on my students financially and the pressure from their families. I didn’t understand why parents were suddenly so involved. I didn’t know what was going on in lower levels, elementary and secondary school, how that was changing from something that nurtured independent thought and problem solving to test-based curricula and no recess.

I think I was also tired from teaching so much for so long. I wanted a life of my own, but I had no time or resources. Back then, in the spring of 2014, I wrote;

I don’t know how other people feel when they reach this point of life. Maybe the way I feel is universal. Maybe all teachers teach to the point at which they are no longer effective; for some, I’m sure, this would be two semesters. For me it’s been more than 35 years. I wonder if all retiring (or quitting) teachers feel like a failure, because I definitely do. I can see that — as with my writing — I’ve missed the “zeitgeist” completely and that all around me is taught, and valued, what I regard as complete bullshit. I’ve even reached the point, the moment, that I can say, “I’ve been wrong all along.”

Teaching is really about maintaining society. Writing is really about Introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. It’s not about the expression of ideas; it’s not about learning the skill that will best serve that task uniquely every single time. It’s not about patience and discipline and the joy of discovering a thought. Helpful criticism given to students garners furious emails; students furious at themselves, students furious at me, bosses upset that I was not more “supportive” (what is not supportive about “let me know if you want to talk this over. I’ll let you revise it”?). 

I was aware how my attitude had changed, and I wrote about that, too. By the time I retired, writing textbooks were formulaic and teachers’ editions had directions as piss-ass and nit-picky as, “Now tell your students to pick up their pens…”

I now not only cringe when my students say, “But what about my body paragraphs?” I get actively infuriated. “What IF it’s not body paragraphs? What IF it’s something important you have to say?” It is not about that for them. It is about body paragraphs. They are so bonded to the five paragraph essay that they will write them even if the entire essay is 10 pages long… Five long ass meaningless meandering paragraphs. Who taught them this? Who taught them this way? I no longer understand the people I work with and I am pretty sure I don’t share their values. 

The scariest and most prescient thing I find in this old blog entry is this:

“I think the world today — in my life time — has undergone or is undergoing a revolution as cataclysmic as any in human history. We might not look at it (I don’t look at it) but people and/or their souls are dying all over the world all the time for the progress of this vague dark thing that is the future.”

Blogging History

I remember the first time I heard of a “blog.” I was having lunch with a co-worker, another teacher, Michael O’Donnell, who’d gone to work at a private school — where he was teaching writing and ended up head of the English department.

“There are so many ways to write these days. And here we are, harping on the goddamned five paragraph essay. Have you heard of this thing called a ‘webblog’?” He proceeded to explain that it was an online journal, and I thought, “I can’t see why I would want to keep a journal online.” But you know, as soon as you say you’ll never do something you do it.

I don’t think at that time the blog notion had been exploited yet for news. I don’t know anything, really, about how anyone was writing a blog at that time. “Blog” was not a verb yet. That should tell you something.

I had kept a journal for years and years and years — it’s definitely a pile of books one could call “the examined life.” I love the way those old guys threw around those beautiful phrases for the benefit of students taking freshman comp today and searching for an intriguing quote (it was a quotation back then before “blog” was a verb) with which to start an essay. But anyway, one of Thoreau’s most pithy sentences is, “The examined life is not worth living.”

All those books illustrate how examined my life has been. Sadly, when I was cleaning out stuff a few years ago, and opened those books and re-examined the examined life, they yielded only that I love nature, got some Christmas cards, and never fell in love with the right guy or even met him. Those books stopped in the early 2000s. I ripped out a lot of pages in the re-examination of the examined life. Too embarrassing for posterity and I wasn’t ready to throw out the books, so…

I began keeping a webblog in 2008 when I ejected the Evil X. That was a long time after the webblog was invented. I kept it on Blogger and it was a place where I could vent and think and ponder at 100 wpm. Once I started, I found it easy, a lot easier than writing on pages. That blog was titled “The Trick is Not Minding” because I was really hurting. I’d been hornswoggled by a shyster who’d left me financially fucked. My favorite aunt had died. I was working too much. I’d already had one hip surgery and was facing the reality that I wasn’t a young sprout any more and that wasn’t going to improve in time. (ha ha).

I looked through some of them this morning and found some good stuff — and a lot less embarrassing than the content in the tomes.

The following is an essay I wrote for my friend Denis Joseph Francis Callahan’s birthday to cheer him up when he didn’t get tenure at a local community college. I said, “You’re lucky. Now you don’t have to read 5 paragraph essays for the rest of your life,” and I handed him this. He loved it and framed it. It’s a perfect example of a five paragraph essay… It’s green because it was green when I printed it and sent it to him. Denis, being more than a wee bit Irish, sent everything in green… So..

I Like Goats
by Martha Ann Ol’ Gus Kennedy
English 51, San Diego City College
Exit Test
Topic: Based on personal experience, defend your position on goats.

I like goats for many reasons, for example, I have many things in common with goats, goats are useful to have around the house and yard, and goats are entertaining.

I have many things in common with goats. Goats like to climb mountains. So do I. Goats are good climbers. So am I. Like me, goats like to stand on old cars and watch the people drive down the Interstate. Some of the happiest times of my life have been spent standing on old cars counting how many different states’ license plats I see in an hour. Goats like to butt old tires. So do I. Goats are friendly. If I feel like it, I am friendly, too.

Goats are very useful around the house and yard. Goats mow the lawn. I don’t. Goat hair makes nice sweaters, but you have to take it off the goat first. Goats give milk. This milk is good for people who are allergic to normal milk, which comes from cows. You can make cheese from goats’ milk. Personally, I hate goat cheese, especially Peccorino Romano. In my opinion, it makes me puke.

Goats are entertaining becaue they are funny looking and do many funny things. They like to scamper around in the back pasture crashing their heads together and jumping straight up in the air. Goats have funny looking eyes, which is why they are demonic, but I don’t think so.

In conclusion, I have many things in common with goats, goats are useful, and goats are entertaining. For these reasons and many others. I like goats.

The end.

Reading through the first blog — “The Trick is Not Minding” — has been fascinating and revelatory. That was twelve years ago and so much has happened in the interval — my whole life changed. It wasn’t until six years later that I retired. In 2008 I was trying to patch things up and hold them together, to regain my hiking abilities after hip surgery and a year of not hiking. I was trying to find my feet again and trying not to hate myself for the mistakes I had made. In 2010 my brother would die and I would start a new blog. Somewhere in there I got the idea of blogs for publicizing my writing and painting and I made public blogs. When I left Blogger, this was my “blog roll.” They are now all private blogs.

“A Lifetime Apprenticeship” is a painting blog. “Alles geben”, “The Trick is Not Minding,” and “Vita Nova” are personal blogs. “Free Magic Show” is about the time I spent with the boys on bikes. The other two are, obviously, about novels, the two I’d written at that time. You can see one is for students taking an online writing class…

Apparently somewhere in there back then I thumbed through one of the tomes and found this. I can still get behind it even some 27 years later.

Poem from 1993

In the sweet blue beauty of the moon
I push aside the air to see if
There’s anything I know, have seen before
but only moonlight
traces the outline of my hands.
Belief is what you do in spite of yourself.
“You gotta have faith in the unknown.”
“Gotta’?” Got toFAITH??
The “unknown” is all we “know”
It’s the only destination. It doesn’t require “faith”
Only stamina.

Rio Grande in January (Natural Pigments Day #4)

I don’t know if it’s finished. It will depend what the colors do as the paint dries.

When I paint, I tend to bring bring what I love closer to me in the painting and make the things I love larger than in real life or laws of perspective allow. When I began this, the mountain was immense, something you’d see in the Cascades, maybe.

And when I finished the painting I saw I’d brought the river closer to the shore than it actually is in real life. Two things I love most here are the mountains and my river. I dealt with the mountain today, but did not move the river. Just imagine I took a few more steps… ❤

Lamont and Dude Discuss 1976 Hit Songs

“What happened to that band, Lamont? Did they go extinct?”

“What Dude?”

“This radio station. you’ve been listening to. It’s playing a bunch a songs I haven’t even heard in this incarnation. I was sitting here having flashbacks and wondering what happened to these bands. It’s only been 44 years.”

“Jesus, Dude, bands don’t ‘go extinct’ in the real sense of extinction, not like we did, you know, several times over the eons.”

“Just a figure of speech. But seriously. Listen. This is so bad.”

“Yeah, that was the mid-70’s if I remember right. Rock didn’t know WHAT it was doing. That’s really ugly. I guess they hadn’t found their inner Aja yet.”

“Lots of songs about motorcycles, being a rebel and hitting the road, too.”

“That seems to be what rockers sing about when they don’t have anything else.”

“You’re all dressed up. What’s the occasion?”


“I thought she never wanted you back on the show after you insulted that woman of amplitude.”

“Is that how we’re referring to fat ladies now?”

“I know that’s better than what you said during your Q & A, ‘You there with your avoirdupois filling the back row.’ I liked Oprah’s retort, though. ‘Some talk coming from a former dinosaur.’ You have to admit, that was clever.”

“Not really. I am a former dinosaur just like size XXXXXXXXXXXXXXL really was filling the back row all on her own. I still don’t get why that woman got upset. I mean, it’s her body, right? To do with as she wants.”

“We live in strange time, Lamont, as you’ve said. Too bad you’re heading up to LA. The sets are breaking clean this morning.”

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.


I’ve had this paintbrush since the late 1970s. It’s my main brush. I’m using it on the painting I’m working on now. It’s about an inch wide and has a short handle which is useful when I’m not using an easel.

It has a history. It did the watercolors for the YWCA in 1978 — in fact, the YWCA bought it for me when I was their artist and I was paid in art supplies. 🙂 It did most of the paintings for my one-woman show back in 1981.

It painted all the “funnyture” back in the ’90s as well as some landscapes when I was painting in acrylics. Sometime in there my brother, who was also an artist and had taught art, grabbed the brush and gave me a big lecture on brush care. Among other things, he trimmed it to a very useful shape so this absolutely GREAT brush got even better and more useful.

I have a LOT of brushes. It’s a beautiful bouquet. But this morning when I started to paint the details I reached for the oldest brush I own.

Many of these brushes have a story. Some I bought, but most were left to me by an artist friend who’s dead and others a gift from an artist friend who’s lost his sight to macular degeneration. My friend who died? She was once my boss at a language school. She retired, and there was a big retirement party for her. We all chipped in to buy her gifts. The main gifts were paint and brushes. I felt a stab of envy seeing her new, beautiful brushes. I wished I had them — at the time I had two brushes — the one in the featured photo and a 1/2 inch brush of a similar type. I also had no money to buy more. I wished I had the time to paint. I wished a lot of things hard-working people who struggle to make ends meet wish. I hated myself for my feelings, but I shrugged them off as human nature.

They’ve been well used. Both Sally and Michael were productive painters. Some brushes are worn and brittle, carrying their painting history in their broken bristles. And, every painter has his or her own way of approaching the surface. Sally’s was different from mine though I wouldn’t say that our styles are completely different. I have yet to use one of Sally’s brushes, but maybe this time. My blind friend has a very different style from mine and has trimmed his brushes pretty drastically to do what he wanted them to do. I love them, too.

The basic differences between brushes are what the bristles are made of and the shapes of the brushes. I tend to use soft brushes with sharp ends, basically brights and flats (sounds like music!). Sally used filberts and rounds.

Not my brushes…
“A Basic Oil Painting Brush Kit, from left to right: bright bristle, filbert bristle, small and large flat bristles, an old bright bristle cut into with scissors (for making loose ragged brushstrokes), Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II round, assortment of Winsor & Newton Monarch brights, flats and filberts; and a fan bristle. Article contributions from Cherie Haas

There’s a lot out there instructing us how to use brushes and it’s probably good, but I think the best lesson is one’s own hand, the surface, the paint and the effect we are searching for. I’m very far from God’s gift to painting, and the ONE great bit of teaching I got in my life for the use of brushes is to use the biggest one you can. Then, somewhere down the road, you might need to put in small things with a small brush, but wait. Do what you can with the biggest brush you can.

Work in progress...

Land of Wonders

“I love this human.”

“Me too, Bear, but I wish I had four legs like you do.”

“Yeah. What’s up with that?”

“Evolution. The same thing that made you a specialized big white dog.” I could use poles, but Bear has to be leashed and I have to hold her. It’s a two handed job. She’s a BIG dog.


“You know, doing what you were bred to do. Take care of sheep.”

“Oh yeah, like my mom and dad.”

I look at my dog. Does she remember them? I shrug. This is all in my head. This is hard work, but we wear ourselves out happily. The snow is not as deep as it was, but it’s still too deep to just walk through. I have snow shoes. I’ve never used them. I should, but I haven’t. I think I like this…

The deer have been here, tracks everywhere, and the patches of alfalfa in this fallow field have been chewed down to the nubbin. I see the tracks where the deer dragged their feet, head down, looking, sniffing.

Bear leaves a citron yellow calling card.

We get out as far as I think I’ll be able to come back. Hundreds of birds — geese? Cranes? take flight about half-a-mile away. My mind WANTS them to be cranes, but they’re geese. We walk back through untrammeled snow, both of us hoping for more but Bear, at least, has the grace to be happy with what she has.

Daffy Dog

“Are you going to take me? Me? Is it my turn? My turn? Me?”

“Yes, Teddy. Just chill. I have to put my boots on.”

“Are they on? What about Bear?”

“I can’t take you both. Last time I tried, you guys pulled me down on my face on a dirt road.”

“That was bad.”

“I was hurt worse right here and you guys weren’t even involved,” I think.

“How about now? Are we going now?”

“Yes.” I turn to my beautiful livestock guardian friend dog. “Bear, it’s Teddy’s turn.”

Bear sits as if she understands. (She does.) I open the front door. Teddy bounds off the step into the snow 8 feet away. He leaps through his footprints in the snow then considers new snow and looks at me.

“Go for it, little dude.”

An 8 foot leap 3 feet up, plop. He runs around. I hold up his halter so he can see it. He runs to the gate and sits. What that guy has learned he’s learned well.

Our walk is a litany of smells, sights, people, snow. Once home, I take off Teddy’s halter and he runs to the front door. BEAR is behind that door and in the last half hour he’s missed her SO MUCH. I open the door and he leaps onto Bear. They growl, wrestle, hug.

“Get out of here, you goofballs.”